This blog is sponsored by Saving Memories Forever
This national holiday was introduced as Armistice Day and was first held on November 11, 1919. It specifically recognized the end of World War 1. In particular, it observed the effective date of the Treaty of Versailles which went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Thirty five years later (1954), Congress changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day in order to recognize those who had served in all conflicts.
Veterans Day was originally set aside as a day for public parades and a 2-minute suspension of all business activity. There are still numerous major events and parades held across the country. Today, many of these events include fairs aimed at helping veterans who are looking for jobs or basic health services. Even so, the event that most Americans notice is the formal national celebration at the Arlington National Cemetery where the President of the United States places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
For many American military families, Veterans Day brings with it a more private reflection. Many spend the day with family. Some visit the grave sites of soldiers they’ve lost. Others gather for a special meal.
Overall, it’s a day of respectful solemnity. I typically find myself quietly thinking about my Dad’s stories about his service in the Navy.
I grew up with a veteran, though I hardly recognized that fact and its significance as a child. My father served eighteen years in the United States Navy. All three of my siblings were born in different places, and certainly go under the title of “Navy brat.” I am the youngest and was born after my Dad retired. I am the only one who isn’t an official “Navy brat”. Maybe that’s why I’m especially curious about my father’s military career.
I first learned about my Dad’s cruise books as a teenager. For those of you who don’t know, cruise books are a pictorial history documenting the daily life and voyages of a ship’s crew. (The Navy Department Library has a large collection (over 8,000 volumes) of cruise books from the Spanish American War to the present.) Typically, each ship keeps a cruise book. Most of the entries serve as sort of a daily diary. After reading a bunch of entries, I wondered vaguely what wasn’t reported.
Surely he had seen some of the ugliness of war. That line of questioning came into sharper focus when my brother enlisted in the Army Reserves.
That’s when I first asked my Dad about the conflict he had seen. In response, he didn’t say a whole lot.
Instead, he looked at me with what I now recognize is his “brave face”, convincing the loving daughter in me that he really did not suffer too much, did not see anything too terrible. Which may be partially true, but then again, it may not. And I may not ever know the entire truth; that is up to Dad. In his mind, his primary job – always – will be to protect me.
The Search Begins
Awhile after that, I began my genealogy research in earnest. That’s when I found a letter written in October,1928 by my great-great grandmother, Frances E. Brown, to the Commission of the Pension board. In her letter, she writes:
“I am a soldier’s daughter, a soldier’s widow, and a soldier’s mother and think I am entitled to at least $14.00 a month. And a soldier’s sister, 3 brothers.”
What a remarkable statement! She is asking for an increase to her widow’s pension. She needed the additional money to pay for insulin for her diabetic son, who served in WWI.
To say that this letter and its simple, stark message made an impact on me, and how I perceive Veterans Day, would be putting it lightly. It was an accidental stumble that put my whole family’s history in a different light. It caused a ripple effect to the point where I now understand both the pride of military families as well as the emotional connection that goes with it. Put yourself in Frances’ position. Imagine being in her shoes as a daughter, widow, sibling, and mother. (By the way, her letter had little effect on the pension board. The request for an increase was not granted for another two years.)
What can we all do to ensure that Veterans Day is appreciated and valued as a community? First of all, it doesn’t have to be just limited to Veterans Day. Make it a week long observance. We can all take the opportunity to educate our children on the significance of the military in our country’s history. Take the time to learn something about that role.
Then say “thank you” to the man or woman you encounter in uniform. Perhaps that happens in the line at the grocery store or at the airport. Maybe while you wait for your morning cup of coffee at the neighborhood café. I have no doubt that they will appreciate your words.
You may also want to consider joining the Thank A Soldier program. Launched in December 2008, the overall goal of the Thank A Soldier cause is to encourage people from all over the world to say “Thank You” when they cross paths with a member of the military, whether they are from Canada, USA, Britain, or any member of the UN Coalition.
Perhaps a visit to a local museum, historical society, veteran’s home or military cemetery is in order. If you live in the Midwest, visit the Missouri History Museum where they currently have an exhibit entitled, “I Was a Soldier – Photos by Jerry Tovo”. The exhibit profiles the approximately 200,000 homeless veterans on the streets or in shelters in our country today. It is a powerful way to see this reality. .
Another possibility is to support the American Widow Project. This non-profit group provides military widows with peer-based support programs designed to educate, empower, inspire and assist in rebuilding their lives. It focuses on the spouses of U.S. service members whose lives have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their website features stories of the soldiers and husbands they remember. Saving Memories Forever promoted their efforts in a fundraising campaign last year.
The choice of how to observe Veteran’s Day is yours. The honor belongs to them.
Genealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.